4

Sound and touch in memory and in braille reading

The previous two chapters showed that perceptual and spatial processes cannot be ignored in describing the decoding of verbal information which is the purpose of tactual reading. The focus in this chapter is on the verbal and particularly the phonological aspects of reading and the connection between these and tactual coding during the process of acquisition.

Reading depends on memory from the start. Beginners have to learn the physical tactual patterns while associating them with the heard and spoken equivalents in the language, and to remember the patterns and the associations. Reading therefore involves longer-term memory for stored associations. It also depends on temporary memory for retrieving the associations from longer-term memory and keeping them in mind during the process of decoding the meaning of the symbols in the written script. In the initial stages of teaching braille, there are no flash-cards with pictures of objects that children can immediately recognize and name. Beginning readers have to associate the tactual pattern with the heard name or label. To understand the process of acquisition, therefore, it is necessary to know how the tactual patterns and heard names are coded in short-term memory.

There has long been ample evidence that the most efficient way to remember lists of serial items for short (seconds) periods is to name them and to rehearse the names mentally (e.g. Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968). For instance, telephone numbers that have just been looked up are remembered better by name than visually. A powerful method, pioneered by Conrad (1964, 1971), made it quite clear that it is the phonological (sound) aspect of naming which mediates better short-term memory. It is much more difficult to remember series of pictures, letters or words that have similar sounding names (e.g. B V D G P T C; mat rat hat bat cat) than lists of letters, words or pictures that have dissimilar sounding names, even if the lists are presented visually rather than by name. Recoding stimuli from other modalities into speech sounds is probably the most efficient means of maintaining them in memory over the short term. The 'working memory' model (Baddeley, 1986) uses the notion of an 'articulatory loop' to describe phonological coding and rehearsal. Short-term memory which

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